The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 9, 2014

Valls retires as chief juvenile probation officer

(Continued)

Texas transplant

Valls came to Limestone County in the late 1980s by way of Texas.

"I was visiting here from Houston and met Sheriff Mike Blakely," Valls recalls, noting that his former wife, Hilda, was from the Clements community.

He had a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of Houston at the time, and Blakely told him to send him a resume.

"He told me if I come up he would put me to work," he said.

When Valls arrived, the sheriff assigned him to a six-county drug taskforce, which Valls worked with for a year before becoming a deputy sheriff for a year or so after graduating from the police academy at Jacksonville State University. From there, Valls was assigned to implement the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) in the Limestone County schools. The program is designed to teach students the dangers of drugs.

"I got a good raise and a car, so I had remorse about leaving the sheriff's office," he said, noting that he liked working with the students, many of whom still recognize and remember him. "It was a good experience, and I enjoyed it."

When the county's chief probation officer, Buster West, died, Valls and others applied for the job and Valls landed it. In the years that followed, he also earned a master's degree in justice and public safety from Auburn University in Montgomery.

Changes 

Over the years, he has seen a change in the juvenile population his office serves, including youths moving from alcohol and marijuana to prescription and other dangerous drugs.

"We are seeing a lot more drug use — oxycontin, methamphetamine and prescription pills," he said. "And, we are seeing more serious crimes being committed — armed robbery, burglary, assaults on parents."

In the end, juvenile probation officers see more failures than successes.

"That is just the nature of it," Valls said.

The juvenile probation office is unique in that its officers have a great deal of discretion in handling cases.

"We take into account their prior record and family environment — the whole dynamic of the family and the child," Valls said. As juveniles have changed over the years, so have the approaches and services provided by the office. Though, the more recent budget cuts have not made this easier.

After the state cut the budget, "we had to search locally for services" Valls said, noting that a county grant writer, Sonya Anthony, obtained a valuable diversion grant that has helped provide some key services. Among them:

• Intense outpatient program;

• Community service program, which allows juveniles to work off their "debt" by serving their community in various ways;

• Ankle-monitoring program, which allows juveniles to remain at home rather than spend time in the Tennessee Valley Youth Detention Facility in Tuscumbia. The county pays $276 per day to reserve two beds at the facility, even if those beds are not used. Under the ankle-monitoring program, the juvenile's family pays the cost; 

• Camp Mitnick juvenile boot camp in Jasper, a six-week program designed to teach discipline amid outdoor and wilderness activities.

Looking back, Valls said he has been lucky to work for “three great people” during his career — Blakely, Craig and Anderson.

"They have been bosses but they have also been friends," he said. "They were not micro-managers. They let me do it. We would discuss issues, but they let me do it."

He tried to profit from their example and do the same with his staff.

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